The Senate just introduced major election reforms, but will they be enough?

The money in politics legislation introduced today in the Senate is a major step in the right direction -- but will it be enough to put everyday Americans in control of our elections?

Olivia Lutwak

Today, the Senate introduced a new package of legislative proposals to reform campaign finance and elections in the United States. For the 78 percent of Americans who support overturning Citizens United, that’s big news. The package is a major step in the right direction — and with so many Americans calling for money in politics and voting rights reforms, it’s no wonder that our leaders introduced today’s legislation.

But will today’s package be enough to put everyday Americans in control of our elections?

Today’s bill contains a proposal to overturn Citizens United, provisions to disclose dark money contributions, and legislation to strengthen the enforcement of campaign finance laws. Many states have been fighting for these reforms, and the Senate’s election reform package brings their concerns into the national spotlight. Many of these measures already have popular support — 16 states and almost 700 communities nationwide have called for an amendment to overturn Citizens United. 

But today’s legislative package fails to include small donor empowerment measures, like those proposed in the Senate’s Fair Elections Now Act (Sen. Durbin – S.1538). Small donor empowerment has a proven track record of refocusing elections on regular voters over mega-donors and special interests. If our lawmakers are serious about election reform, small donor empowerment measures aren’t just a step in the right direction — they’re essential to our goal of restoring a government of, by, and for the people.

New York City helped to pioneer small donor empowerment with a system that matches small donations at a six-to-one ratio for candidates who refuse to accept big-money contributions. For everyday New York families, it’s had a big impact. Ever since the program’s implementation, a more diverse set of small donors engage with city campaigns, city candidates rely more heavily on local small donors, and a more diverse set of candidates are now winning office. 

Following the success of small donor empowerment in New York City, communities across the country have taken action to implement similar systems that use public funds to refocus elections on small donors and regular voters. From Seattle, Washington, to Washington, D.C., voters and lawmakers are working together to put small donor empowerment solutions in place.

The elections reform package introduced today proposes important reforms that would limit corporate political spending and increase transparency in our elections, but the bill leaves out the reform that would refocus our democracy on the people who matter most: American voters. To create a democracy that puts voters first, we need a small donor empowerment system that allows candidates to fund their campaigns through small contributions from everyday Americans. Today, Senate leaders put forth strong reforms that, if paired with small donor empowerment legislation, will move us towards a government that works for everyday Americans.  Empowering small donors is the only way to truly ensure that Americans from every income bracket are given a fair voice in our elections.

While today’s proposed package of election reforms is a strong start, we can do better. It’s time for our lawmakers in Washington to catch up with the many states and communities fighting to take big money out of politics. We’re happy to see the Senate take a stand on an issue so important to so many Americans, but without a system of small donor empowerment, today’s elections reform package remains incomplete. 

The Senate is pushing the conversation forward, and it is our job as voters to push them further. Take a moment to tell your senator we need small donor empowerment solutions now.


Olivia Lutwak